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Genealogy: What’s The Point?

Usually when I mention my genealogy addiction what I get in return from others is sincere interest. They wish they knew how to get started, they ask me for advice on how to get started or the genealogy bug has also bitten them and we trade stories.

Every now and then though, I’ll meet someone with zero interest. I mean… zero. Not only do they not have any interest, they don’t see the point or why it’s important.

“Genealogy? Really? What’s the point? What does some guy who died decades ago have to do with me?”

This is usually when I try to keep my head from exploding. What does some guy who died decades ago have to do with you? One word…

Everything.

If you are one of these people-I ask you to bear with me and hear me out. If you are someone who’s interested in researching your family-let me give you another reason to be interested. And for those of you who already get it… let me give you a reason to smile today (because you’ll get where I am going).

So, let’s get started….

I’m going to have you use your imagination for a second… don’t fight it! Just roll with me here… Let’s say your 10th great grandfather’s name is Noah Washburn and just for fun… let’s pretend this is him…

dennis hughesAgain… obviously the photo isn’t that old-nor is the guy in the picture named Noah Washburn (pretending).

Back to your handsome, 10th great grandfather, Noah Washburn…

Let’s think about Noah’s life for a second. Like our lives, there would have been everyday things that happened in his life that would have been out of his control. Things he would have needed to overcome or survive. Such as…

  • Natural Disasters: tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes, wild fires, mudslides, hurricanes, bitterly cold winters, floods, avalanches, droughts, and the list goes on.
  • Epidemics: Influenza, Tuberculosis, Smallpox, the Black Death, etc.
  • Famines: The Great Famine, Bengal Famine, Chalisa Famine, etc. (wrong time periods but you get the point)
  • War: Millions to choose from…
  • Work Related Accidents: shipwrecks, mining accidents, hunting accidents, shepherd trampled by a heard of stampeding sheep…

…Just making sure you’re still awake.

The point is-there would have been a TON of things Noah would have had to survive long enough to have his children. If he did not survive the above, your behind wouldn’t be sitting comfortably in your computer chair, sofa, etc. reading this blog.

You would never have existed.

Now let’s take it a step further. Think about all the decisions we make on a daily basis that change the course of our lives. Sometimes they are big choices-Will I pick up and move to another state? Will I quit my job and start my own business? Other times the choices you make seem small and not worth remembering. However, in the grand scheme of things, those little choices can lead to major changes in our life. Will I stay in tonight or will I go to my friend’s party where I will meet my future husband?

So let’s look back at Noah for a second.

  • Maybe he decided to take on a job other than the one he chose?
  • Maybe instead of working on the family farm he decided to join the military?
  • Maybe he decided to move to another town, village or country instead of staying put?
  • Maybe he decided to marry another woman before getting the chance to meet your 10th great grandmother?
  • Maybe he did marry your 10th great grandmother but instead of them having 5 kids they decided to have 3…and your 9th great grandfather would have been their 4th child?

The point being-if Noah made any choices differently (major ones or little ones that added up to major change) it could have put his life on a completely different path which may have ended with you never existing.

 

Now lets take this even further…

You have two parents…

2 ParentsFour grand parents…

4 GrandparentsEight great grandparents…

 

8 Great GrandparentsSixteen 2nd great grand parents…

16 2nd Great Grandparents And 32 3rd great grand parents…

32 3rd Great GrandparentsStopping there for now, that’s a total of 62 people you directly descend from.

62 PeopleHad any one of those 62 people not survived the uncontrollable or made decisions other than the ones they made-any ONE of them… You would not exist. And let’s not forget-the same is true about the hundreds of thousands of others I didn’t have the space to represent in restroom symbol people.

So, for those who insist on asking, “Genealogy? Really? What’s the point? What does some guy who died decades ago have to do with me?”

One word…

Everything.

 

 

Are you one of the guilty people who found genealogy to be pointless and have a change of heart? Are you a newbie and hadn’t thought of the above? Been at it awhile and have something to add?! Don’t be shy-comment below! I love to hear from you guys.

Kris Williams

41 Comments

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  1. I have tried to get info from my parents about our history, but they are totally uninterested. When I do get info from them, it has usually turned out to be in error. I wish I could get them interested in our true roots, but alas, its of no use. They are (for lack of better terminology) very religious and tell me in no uncertain terms, they are more concerned with the souls of the living than those that have already passed… *sigh* (for the record, I have made great strides without their help!)

    1. Hey Jim!

      It does happen-some family members refuse to open up, others will tell you every little detail you’re willing to take and then some. Funny thing is… when they don’t want to share I automatically wonder-what are they hiding? lol it only motivates me to dig further. Funny part is-getting to know those who’ve passed gives you a better understanding and appreciation for those who are living. Those who have passed influenced our loved ones. I say keep at it! 😉

    2. All I can say is keep going! I had a lot (and I mean a LOT) of wrong information on my father’s side of the family and I have waded through it to finally get to the facts. I still have holes, but you will get there, with or without your parents’ help. Good luck!

  2. As you can see by my name, I am the proud descendant of a United Empire Loyalist. He is just one of my ancestors. I have a patriot ancestor as well, who just happened to be Davy Crockett’s maternal uncle. My earliest immigrant ancestor was a week late for the first Thanksgiving and one is the first native-born child in Quebec from parents born in France. I love to find out about my ancestors, their lives and share the stories with my family.

    1. It really is fascinating, isn’t it? Makes me wonder-what will I do in my lifetime that will have my descendants talking? Will the be impressed with my story? Will I be an ancestor they brag about or forget about? lol 🙂

  3. I LOVE this!

    1. Thank you, Melissa! 🙂

      It’s one of the many reasons I love genealogy. It’s amazing how many people had to exist in order for us to and it’s also amazing how much you can learn about yourself by researching people you’ve never met! Are you new to genealogy?

  4. I’ve run aground when it comes to my father side of the family, my mother won’t open up with who he is or had been. All I have is a name and that he had been in jail around my birth! Again thanks Steven C.

    1. That is a tough one, Steven… may I ask how old you are? Do you have his full name? I know you said he was in prison the time of your birth… but do you have a full copy of your birth certificate? Usually both parents names will be listed on it… unless your mom left him off completely which is prob the case if shes refusing to tell you. Worth a try though if you don’t have one. I know I have a birth certificate card which doesn’t list my parents, but when I got a full copy it had both my parents names… did your mom grow up and stay pretty much in the same town/area? Or did you move around a lot or far from where she would have lived when she had you?

  5. Hey Kris!
    Quick question: what are your thoughts on genealogy websites? Would you recommend any to get started on researching my family?

    1. There will be a blog on that shortly!!! 🙂 Just had someone ask me about that a couple days ago. A lot of great sites-some of the FREE! 😉

  6. Wow, very well written Kris! If this doesn’t get people interested, I don’t know what will. I have tried to find relatives past my parents, although I know the names, since both Grandparents came from Europe, it’s been frustrating. Lots of the same names and dates. Since I have very little to go on, exact dates of birth, residences etc, it’s been difficult. And I’m guessing most the towns they were from in Germany and Poland lost most of their records during the war. I love what you do and love you have such a passion for it!!!

    1. Hey Al,

      Thank you! I’ve been at it for so long and have learned so much-it’s hard not to have a passion for it. I do hear you on things being frustrating. I am still trying to find my way around my European roots. It’s even more difficult when your family goes back to a country that doesn’t speak English-like in your case. My great grandfather was from Italy… I don’t know a word of Italian so it makes things extremely difficult. I have had to find people to help me translate records and I have had to do some research on Italian immigration, customs, etc. to help make sense of records, my family’s move here, etc.

      It’s tough but if you like puzzles… it keeps you busy! 🙂

      1. If they were Catholics and you know the village and especially the parish, that might be good!!!! LDS may have the microfilm. I began tracing my German Catholic ancestors via LDS records 15 years ago. The village and parish is the key! Plus now, since I am an amature local church historian, I’ve made contacts with some incredible Latin translators!

        I share a common ancestor with President Vicente Fox of Mexico. My third great grandmother Franziska Engel Flach was his second great grandmother. Mrs. Flach was a widow, and as my Grandma called her, an “old German battle axe.” She was born in Bingen-am-Rhein and died in 1903 in Cincinnati, Ohio, my hometown. Her daughter married a Fox, and their son (the grandfather of President Fox) moved to Mexico. My uncle heard stories of the rich cousins in Mexico during the Depression, and dreamed of escaping Ohio farm life for a south-of-the-border adventure. When President Fox came to power, we had zero clue he was our cousin until one day I read a story where visited Cincinnati and spoke of his Flach ancestry. I about flipped. A group of Cincinnati rich people met him in a dinner and claimed they might be related. I went ecstatic and jealous, saying to my Mom, we are related, and I can prove it!!! Not only that, I can send the President info on his ancestors in Germany going back to the 1600s, thanks to my LDS microfilm searches. Maybe I should send my research to his Presidential Library?

        http://archive.cincinnati.com/article/20110630/NEWS01/107010346/Former-Mexican-president-stops-by-Cincinnati

        http://www.bizjournals.com/cincinnati/stories/2007/10/15/daily35.html

  7. Hi Kris,

    We recently moved into a house dated 1792 (The oldest part). Can you tell me the best way to research who has lived in this house?

    1. Hey Sue,

      With the house being as old as it is I would probably head to the local Historical Society first. They may have information on the house considering it’s age and may be able to tell you more about the history of the land. The local library may also hold information on older homes in the area. Sometimes there will be old maps that actually list the owners of the home at the time the map was drawn up (I’ve found a few like that in the past). You may even want to consider speaking to neighbors-ones that have lived in that area for a long period of time. There’s always the chance they knew several previous owners or may have heard stories about the house over the years. Have you had a good look through the property? Sometimes you will find old letters, documents, photos, etc. stashed in the home from previous owners that will give you a bit more info. You may also want to look into get copies of deeds which would list the names of previous owners. Each town is different-so I would suggest asking the local Historical Society, library, Town Hall, etc. where your town stores these documents so you can begin to hunt them down.

      Hope that helps!
      Kris

  8. Thanks for sharing Kris. I wished that I had taken a stronger interest years ago when the information was more available to me. But now, I am older and many of my older family members are now deceased and I am sure each had tons of interesting info to share.
    On another note, I am very glad i found you doing other fun stuff. You were my favorite on GH and I was sad to see you leave.

    1. Hey Doug,

      there are many people in the same situation and like I tell them, I would still suggest you give it a try. Reason being, you now are the oldest generation. If you have kids or nieces and nephews-you could be the connection for them to the families past. In a way-you play a hugely important role in that through you they will get to know your loved ones and through stories you will also keep those loves ones alive. I have many family members I have never met but due to the fact I have listened to so many stories about them from my parents and grandparents I talk about these family members like I knew them. And honestly, I feel like I do. Between the stories I heard and the records I’ve found I could tell you all about them. My suggestion would be to just start writing down memories you have of your loved ones who have passed. What were they like? What were their hobbies? What stories did they tell you about their childhood, etc. Also, write about your own life. It’s never too late to start, just takes a lil extra to get started and the unfortunate part is you miss out on first hand stories. Put everything you remember on paper… on a Word document. 🙂

      I am sure your family will appreciate it.
      Kris

  9. I knew absolutely nothing about my grandfather on my Dads side, as he left my grandmother when my Dad was 4. Thanks to my new found love for genealogy I know names and have pictures of people that date all the way back to Jamestown, VA (1600’s). My ancestor came over from England when he was 11 and was an indentured servant (slave) on a tobacco farm for years – that is until he was freed. Then he acquired his own land and started his own farm.

    Genealogy is amazing. I suggest not to give up to anyone hitting a “road block” with their research. Just take a breath and find an alternate route. Answers are out there!

    1. Kristen,

      I 100% agree on taking a breath when hitting a “road block” and find an alternate route-so true. It really is like a puzzle. Sometimes you need to put it down and come back to it with fresh eyes. Other times-it just takes some creativity and thinking outside the box. As frustrating as it can be sometimes-I’ve always come back to it!

      Kris

  10. Hey Kris,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on genealogy. Extremely insightful and provocative. I’ve always been interested in my lineage.I know some as my father did his own research years ago…just never knew quite where to begin. I would love to learn more, so I’m subscribing to your newsletter.
    Looking forward to the pursuit,
    David

    1. David,

      Thank you!! And thank you for subscribing… I intend on throwing tips in the newsletters outside of just the blog so I hope I help you in your search!

      Kris

  11. Hey Kris! Thanks! This is awesome. My dad and I research our family as a team. Thanks to other like minded people I have been able to trace my family’s heritage back to 16th century England. Well, up to where he came over here. Unfortunately, we are at a road block when it comes to England because our ancestor either changed one or both of his names when he came to the Colonies.

    Thanks again for the encouragement.

    1. Kaite,

      Name changes are such a headache! I have had a few in my family-one I wasn’t able to crack until I wrote a blog that included the ancestors headstone. That’s when a few cousins found me and gave me the whole story… it was an interesting one to say the least, lol.

      Thanks for reading and commenting! Us genealogy nerds gotta stick together! 😉

  12. Hey Kris~

    I’m the one who’s always been interested but never knew where to start and haven’t had a ton of $$ to dish out in order to get very far. I like what you descried above, totally makes sense and intrigues me even more!!! I’ve always waned to know where/who I come from so I can share with my daughters. 🙂

    1. Hey Julie!

      It is incredible addictive and there is so much to learn about yourself in the process. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune-I plan to cover some more cost effective ways to research/get started. I hope you find my blogs to be helpful! 🙂

  13. Hi Kris
    I’ve been reading your blog’s with great interest. I can’t imagine why some people aren’t interested in genealogy. It’s an addiction, it’s fun. I live in the Netherlands and thanks to my family research, I know where i’m coming from and I can say I have a history now. My ancestor was a german soldier in the 17th century. He was send to the Netherlands and stayed here. And here I am. During my research I have found a number of living family in the U.S.A. . I’ve tried to contacted them, but they don’t seem to be interested in a distant familymember from the Netherlands. Pity.
    Just carry on with your blog 🙂

    1. Hey Jan!

      Fun to hear from overseas readers, welcome! I’m surprised the distant US cousins wouldn’t be interested… I did find one ancestor that goes back to Amsterdam. I really wanted to find more on him before my last trip out there but unfortunately I didn’t find much-maybe next trip! Thanks for the kind words! 🙂

  14. Hello Kris,

    Very well written and spot on why it matters. As someone who was adopted, not knowing your family history can be extremely frustrating. I suppose those that can actively get the information lose interest while those of us that have to really dig gives us a motive to continue.

    I still find it intriguing when anyone doesn’t want to know where they have come from… how could you not?

  15. Hey Kris,
    I also share the genealogy addiction. I’ve been researching for a few years. A few of my roadblocks have to do with ancestors born ca. 1800. I was wondering, since the census records at that time only lists the head of household, what are some tips you can give to find the parents names of those born at this time. I have tried to narrow down the options by looking for the head of household with the same surname in the area, but there are still too many possibilities and impossible to narrow it down. Thanks for sharing your passion and inspiring others!

    1. Hey Steve,

      You may have to look for other records that might be available to provide you with the information your looking for. Do you know where they died? I’d say do a search to find out when California started recording death records. If you know what town they passed in, reach out to the town hall or state vitals office to see if you can get a copy of their death certificate. Not sure if you ever tried ordering records before-pretty easy process, doesn’t cost much just be prepared to wait for a response. Could take a few weeks or longer. Have you only tired tracing them through census records?

  16. I have been attempting to find my ancestry through my grandmothers fathers family. I have gotten as far as my 3rd great grandfather but am at an impasse. I can not find anything about his parents I want to know where in Ireland they were from but not sure how far back i’ll have to go. so far everyone has been born in the US how can I get passed this road block I cant afford to pay the fees on sme sites.

  17. Began my family tree about 2 years ago and it is still something I do every day. Broke through a huge brick wall at the end of 2014 and answered questions my entire family were interested in. To date, I have placed many family members from the time they left their homeland to their deaths in America. It is easily one of the most exciting parts of my day.

    1. Hey Mary,

      Nothing like breaking through a brick wall! I’ve got one I have to find my way around as soon as I have some time to head up to Maine. It’s funny how quick you can find yourself at the computer for 1, 2, 3, etc. hours after thinking… oh, I’ll just have a quick look at this one thing…

  18. Have been researching my ancestry for some time. I have hit a huge road block on my father’s father. I can’t find his immigration or naturalization records. He’s originally from Lithuania and the family story is that he came into the country with his father and then they had a falling out. I’m pretty sure the last name has been changed. This was somewhat confirmed when I went to the Lithuanian museum in Chicago and the lady there told me Luke is not a Lithuanian surname but his first name, Ignas, is a Lithuanian name. The first mention I have of him here in South Dakota is in 1909, but he doesn’t show up in the 1910 US census. What really strikes me funny is that he seemed to have no problem with stretching the truth on official documents. For example, he was born on 8/22/1883, the 1915 state census has his age as 31, which is good. His 1918 draft card has his age as 35 which is off a little, but not bad. The 1920 US census has his age as 36 and year of naturalization as 1906 and year of immigration as 1901. Then it gets really weird. The 1925 state census has his age as 38. His 1928 marriage license has his age as 39. The 1930 US census has his age as 48 and year of immigration as 1908. The 1935 state census has his age as 49. The 1940 US census has his age as 54. The 1945 state census has his age as 62. And his death certificate is back to normal and has his age as 83. His obituary has his year of immigration as 1899. As you can see, it’s been a long and interesting search.

    1. Hey James,

      Name changes are such a pain in the ass… Believe me, I know from personal experience. Census records are funny things… people could be listed by their full names, nicknames, initials, they may have gone by their middle name rather than their first, etc. Another problem is that the people who went door to door recording the census first hand may have mispelled your ancestors name-makng it hard to search. THEN there is a second round of human error that can happen-the people hired to input the census information online may also misspell your ancestors name. One example… my great grand mother was Alice McCurdy and it is written correctly on the document. However, the person inputting the info online read her name as Alice McNady. For that reason-she was not easy to find. As you noted about stretching the truth-our ancestors would lie about their ages for many reasons-to work, to join the military, etc. so it’s not uncommon to find their age not match up exactly from document to document. Again, with census records-it’s not uncommon for someones age to be off by 1 to 3 years just through human error. Cross reference, cross reference, cross reference… 😉

      1. Funny you should mention having names input incorrectly online. When I was researching my dad’s brothers I ran into that with the Social Security Death Index. My uncle Donald is listed there as Doald. Not a big mistake but it could be confusing to someone who doesn’t know his name.

        1. Definitely makes it confusing but also harder to search. Thinking this might be a blog worthy topic since I have a few things to say on it, lol. 😉

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